Finding genetic traits in crops could help plants survive in warmer, drier world

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Corn is spread out to dry after harvest in Khok Dach, Cambodia

Sometimes it pays to have wild and quirky relatives. That’s certainly the case for staple crops that help feed the world. It also helps — both the plants and the people who depend on them — to have leading geneticists searching for family traits that could ensure those crops thrive in a warmer, drier world.

Researchers at UC Davis and around the world are scrambling to develop new varieties of food and fiber crops that will produce abundant yields despite drought and other effects of climate change. They’re also exploring more water-efficient ways to grow existing crops.

It’s estimated that 38 percent of the world and 70 percent of its agricultural output are already impacted by drought — numbers that will likely rise as climate change intensifies. To make matters worse, global population is spiraling upward, expected to soar past 9 billion by the year 2050.

In short, we’re headed toward a future that will have billions of more mouths to feed with much less water, higher temperatures and no room to expand the global farm.

With some plants, they’re searching for genetic “markers” that will identify the genes responsible for various stress-tolerance traits, speeding up conventional breeding. In other cases, they expect to insert genes from the wild relatives into existing crop varieties, better equipping them to adapt to climate change.

Here are snapshots of four crops and the scientists studying them:

Read full, original article: UC Davis scientists work to ID food crops that can survive global warming

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